By Ed Korczynski, Sr. Technical Editor
3D-NAND chips are in production or pilot-line manufacturing at all major memory manufacturers, and they are expected to rapidly replace most 2D-NAND chips in most applications due to lower costs and greater reliability. Unlike 2D-NAND which was enabled by lithography, 3D-NAND is deposition and etch enabled. “With 3D-NAND you’re talking about 40nm devices, while the most advanced 2D-NAND is running out of steam due to the limited countable number of stored electrons-per-cell, and in terms of the repeatability due to parasitics between adjacent cells,” reminded Harmeet Singh, corporate vice president of Lam Research in an exclusive interview with SemiMD to discuss the company’s presentation at the Flash Memory Summit 2016.
“We’re in an era where deposition and etch uniquely define the customer roadmap,” said Singh,“and we are the leading supplier in 3D-NAND deposition and etch.” Though each NAND manufacturer has different terminology for their unique 3D variant, from a manufacturing process integration perspective they all share similar challenges in the following simplified process sequences:
1) Deposition of 32-64 pairs of blanket “mold stack” thin-films,
2) Word-line hole etch through all layers and selective fill of NAND cell materials, and
3) Formation of “staircase” contacts to each cell layer.
Each of these unique process modules is needed to form the 3D arrays of NVM cells.
For the “mold stack” deposition of blanket alternating layers, it is vital for the blanket PECVD to be defect-free since any defects are mirrored and magnified in upper-layers. All layers must also be stress-free since the stress in each deposited layer accumulates as strain in the underlying silicon wafer, and with over 32 layers the additive strain can easily warp wafers so much that lithographic overlay mismatch induces significant yield loss. Controlled-stress backside thin-film depositions can also be used to balance the stress of front-side films.
“The difficult etch of the hole, the materials are different so the challenges is different,” commented Singh about the different types of 3D-NAND now being manufactured by leading fabs. “During this conference, one of our customer presented that they do not see the hole diameters shrinking, so at this point it appears to us that shrinking hole diameters will not happen until after the stacking in z-dimension reaches some limit.”
Tri-Layer Resist (TLR) stacks for the hole patterning allow for the amorphous carbon hardmask material to be tuned for maximum etch resistance without having to compromise the resolution of the photo-active layer needed for patterning. Carbon mask is over 3 microns thick and carbon-etching is usually responsive to temperature, so Lam’s latest wafer-chuck for etching features >100 temperature control zones. “This is an example of where Lam is using it’s processes expertise to optimize both the hardmask etch as well as the actual hole etch,” explained Singh.
The Figure shows a simplified cross-sectional schematic of how the unique “staircase” wordline contacts are cost-effectively manufactured. The established process of record (POR) for forming the “stairs” uses a single mask exposure of thick KrF photoresist—at 248nm wavelength—to etch 8 sets of stairs controlled by a precise resist trim. The trimming step controls the location of the steps such that they align with the contact mask, and so must be tightly controlled to minimize any misalignment yield loss.
Lam is working on ways to tighten the trimming etch uniformity such that 16 sets of stairs can be repeatably etched from a single KrF mask exposure. Halving the relative rate of vertical etch to lateral etch of the KrF resist allows for the same resist thickness to be used for double the number of etches, saving lithography cost. “We see an amazing future ahead because we are just at the beginning of this technology,” commented Singh.